An attractively lensed tale about a young man seeking his place in life and love, "The Fever" gradually evolves into a passionate social statement about the ills afflicting contemporary Italy. An engaging cast and some well-written comic dialogue should help make it a strong contender in local and Euro markets; fest programmers may also want to take a look.

This review was updated on Monday, April 4, 2005

An attractively lensed tale about a young man seeking his place in life and love, “The Fever” gradually evolves into a passionate social statement about the ills afflicting contemporary Italy. Director Alessandro D’Alatri brings convincing anger to bear on the national pettiness and conformity that threaten his hero’s individuality and enthusiasm for life, though it all leads to a gratifying finale that smacks of fantasy and forced optimism. An engaging cast and some well-written comic dialogue should help make it a strong contender in local and Euro markets; fest programmers may also want to take a look.

This very Italian story is centered, like many of D’Alatri’s films, on ordinary people leading apparently boring lives, though on closer inspection, they reveal an inner richness. Set in the charming northern town of Cremona, birthplace of Stradivarius, it deals with the common aspiration of many families to settle their offspring into government jobs.

Like the son in Mario Monicelli’s 1977 “An Average Little Man,” nice guy Mario (Fabio Volo, star of D’Alatri’s previous film, “Casomai”) was earmarked at birth for paper-pushing by his soldier dad (now deceased) and seamstress mom (Gisella Burinato). Though temperamentally unsuited to be a bureaucrat, he steps into the role to earn money to fulfil his dream of opening a discotheque with his buddies.

Starting the new job at city hall, Mario is paired with a mild-mannered civil servant nearing retirement, Faoni (Vittorio Franceschi), who gently teaches him to lower his expectations about job fulfillment. However, Mario’s popularity with women excites the animosity of the slimy mayor, Cerqueti (Massimo Bagliani). Mario is forced to collect an unpopular tax door-to-door, then transferred to a dingy office at the city cemetery. The constant presence of funerals takes on symbolic connotations, as Mario’s dreams are quashed one by one.

What brings him back to life is meeting beautiful go-go disco dancer Linda (Valeria Solarino), a lit student with a passion for videotaping the graves of famous poets. This leads to serious reflections about the meaning of life that extends beyond family and community expectations.

A big plus is the naturalness of the well-chosen cast, whose members are far from stars. Volo’s ironic humor keeps the story from being depressing and obvious, while Solarino offers an unusual combo of beauty, brains and balanced emotions. Many supports stand out with classic portraits of Italian characters — Burinato as the smothering mother, Franceschi as the resigned bureaucrat, Cerqueti as the evil boss.

Particular laurels go to Arnoldo Foa (last seen in a cameo in Ettore Scola’s “People of Rome”) as the president of Italywhose visit to Cremona sends local officials into a tizzy. If some parts of the script seem keyed to the needs of pic’s television producers, Foa’s small but hilarious role is one that pushes the envelope.

D’Alatri’s experience directing commercials and a stint working in the U.S. is evident in pic’s bold use of camera techniques and digital effects rarely seen in Italian movies. Mario and Linda’s trysts are filmed in the cliched style of commercials, with golden-lit interiors and fields of waving grain. Italo Petriccione’s fluid camera movements, boosted by artificial fog, give the night sequences in Cremona a surreal, dreamlike quality reminiscent of Fellini’s hometown, Rimini — another locale where individual yearnings and societal conformity once slugged it out.

Production design by Luigi Marchione features some original work, while the music track is a careful compilation of contemporary musicians and Italian evergreens.

The Fever

Italy

Production

A 01 Distribution release of a RAI Cinema, Rodeo Drive production. Produced by Marco Poccioni, Marco Valsania. Directed by Alessandro D'Alatri. Screenplay, Gennaro Nunziante, D'Alatri, Domenico Starnone.

Crew

Camera (color), Italo Petriccione; editor, Osvaldo Bargero; music, Fabio Barovero, Roy Paci, Negramaro, Simone Fabbroni; production designer, Luigi Marchione; costume designer, Gemma Mascagni; sound (Dolby), Tullio Morganti; assistant director, Bernardo Barilli; casting, Barilli. Reviewed at Casa del Cinema, Rome, March 30, 2005. Running time: 113 MIN.

With

Fabio Volo, Gisella Burinato, Valeria Solarino, Vittorio Franceschi, Massimo Bagliani, Arnoldo Foa, Thomas Trabacchi, Gianluca Gobbi, Paolo Jannacci, Alessandro Garbin, Lucilla Agosti, Julie Depardieu.

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